The World’s First International Congress of Mindful Politicians
Something quite extraordinary happened in the UK House of Commons on October 17th. Forty politicians from 14 countries sat together in silence, practicing mindfulness with the guidance of Jon Kabat-Zinn. UK Ministers sat in contemplation alongside delegates who had flown in from as far away as Israel, Sri Lanka, Croatia and Sweden to explore their interest in mindfulness as an instrument of positive change. The world’s first international congress of mindful politicians then engaged in lively discussion on how they might follow the UK in making mindfulness a serious matter of public policy.
Delegates shared stories of their own journey to mindfulness practice through depression and anxiety, and accounts of profound overcoming in the face of life-altering illness and injury. Mindfulness, said Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, had helped her cope when therapy wasn’t appropriate, leaving her a passionate advocate of the practice in the professional context and determined to discover where it could be of most service in the policy landscape. An in-depth symposium brought guests up to speed with the latest news of mindfulness in UK healthcare and criminal justice, including eloquent first-hand testimony from Mark, an ex-inmate introduced to mindfulness after 30 years in and out of prison: “it gave me my life back.”
The event was born 18 months previously in the office of US Congressman Tim Ryan. The Ohio Democrat, now tipped as a 2020 presidential candidate, is a dedicated practitioner who advocates mindfulness as a strategy for sanity amid the chaos of politics—and does all he can to further mindfulness stateside, not least in the care of military veterans. Congressman Ryan said in 2014, “I came out of (my first retreat) with a whole new way of relating with what was going on in the world… like any good thing that a congressman finds—a new technology, a new policy idea—immediately I said, ‘How do we get this out?’”
Encouraging a Kinder Approach to Political Dialog
In October of 2015 the Mindful Nation UK report launched, signaling promising movement in British policy, with the adoption of recommendations for widened access on the National Health Service and a national working group looking at implementation in the criminal justice system. We now wondered how we could build on this opportunity to establish an international network of legislators interested in mindfulness. Members could draw support from each others’ progress, pointing to the UK and Sweden as legislatures successfully implementing evidence-based mindfulness policies. Our hope in cultivating these friendships was not only to aid the proliferation of mindfulness, but to do so in a way that transcends the sectarian political tone that the world is so ready to grow out of, and models deep, courageous cooperation.